Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Gaslight (1944)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Gaslight (1944)

In 'women's' director George Cukor's lavish, glossy and dramatic MGM mystery-thriller (known as The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK) - it was a superb, definitive psychological suspense-thriller based on Patrick Hamilton's long-running London staged play-melodrama Gas Light (premiering in late 1938). It was a remake of director Thorold Dickinson's shorter and more faithful Gaslight (1940, UK), with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, which MGM unsuccessfully tried to destroy to avoid competition. [Note: It was called Angel Street when it played on Broadway beginning in late 1941, with Vincent Price in the villainous role.] It was considered a film noir due to its ominous plot and impressive photography (expressionistic, shadowy, and menacing). On a budget of $2 million, it made $4.6 million.

From its total of seven Academy Awards nominations, it scored two wins: Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), and Best B/W Art Direction (for the superb set of the recreated Victorian town house). Bergman's role was of the vulnerable young socialite wife who became helpless as she experienced a debilitating nervous breakdown and near insanity while living with her mysterious ne'er-do-well, urbane, worldly husband in the home where her beloved aunt was murdered. The film's plot was similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949) - also starring Ingrid Bergman.

The film's plot, mostly faithfully adapted by its screenwriters, was about a diabolical, Victorian criminal husband who systematically and methodically attempted to torment, menace, domestically abuse, and drive his bedeviled, fragile, vulnerably-innocent wife mad. Its title was derived from the frequent dimming and flickering of the gaslights in a Victorian-era home. The phrase "to gaslight" someone (to deliberately drive someone insane by psychologically manipulating their environment and tricking someone into believing that they are insane), was derived from the film. Its tagline described the plot of marital abuse: "Strange drama of a captive sweetheart."

  • the opening title credits played over a flickering gaslight, typical of the Victorian-era; notice that behind the gaslight is the static shadow of a man strangling a woman

1875 - Thornton Square Strangulation Murder

14 Year-Old Paula Alquist (Terry Moore) - Niece of Deceased
  • the first sequence or prologue presented, through a London newspaper article, news of a mysterious strangulation murder committed in a Victorian mansion at 9 Thornton Square; in 1875, the victim was Alice Alquist, a famed prima donna opera singer; Alquist's grieving and distraught young 14 year-old niece Paula Alquist (Terry Moore as teenager, Ingrid Bergman as adult) [orphaned at birth] was living there at the time and had found the body; the murder (and the case of her missing valuable jewels, a gift from the Czar to Alice - the film's MacGuffin) remained unsolved
  • while the house was left abandoned, the young and aspiring opera singer was sent away to spend time in Italy with her Aunt's best friend - her new guardian Maestro Mario Guardi (Emil Rameau), a teacher of singing; her musical accompanist during lessons was provided by older French pianist Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer)
Singing Lessons in Italy with Maestro Mario Guardi (Emil Rameau)
  • ten years after her Aunt's death in 1885, although Paula had extensive training as a voice student, she felt that she wasn't ever going to be able to sing like her deceased aunt, and was released from her tutelage; she also confessed that profound happiness had come to her from her love for an unnamed suitor; however, after a courtship of only two weeks with the suave, outwardly charming, amorous musician Gregory Anton, he was already urging marriage and she was uncertain and hesitant
  • during a holiday week to gather her thoughts, Paula went on a train journey to Lake Como; in her compartment, she conversed with a garrulous Englishwoman named Miss Thwaites (Dame May Whitty); nicknamed "Bloodthirsty Bessie" by her friends, the older lady loved murder mysteries, and due to her residence at 16 Thornton Square, she was reminded of the 'real, live murder" that occurred in Paula's murdered aunt's London home ten years earlier: "It was a most mysterious case. They never found out who killed her. They never even found a motive"; the tragic recollection of the unsolved murder case where her Aunt Alquist was murdered (and her jewels were missing) was un-nerving to the meek and disconcerted Paula
  • as she disembarked from the train at Lake Como, she was relieved that Gregory had preceded her there - and they kissed; in the next scene, they had already becoming married, and were spending an Italian honeymoon at the Hotel Del Lago; they discussed whether they should return to London and live in her Aunt's ancestral childhood London townhome at 9 Thornton Square - that she had inherited from her dead aunt a decade earlier
  • ironically, Paula admitted that ever since she had fallen in love with Anton, she hadn't been afraid any more of the 3-story claustrophobic house: "That house comes into my dreams sometimes - a house of horror. Strange - I haven't dreamed of it since I've known you. I haven't been afraid since I've known you....You've cast out fear for me...I've found peace in loving you. I could even face that house with you...Yes, yes, you shall have your dream. You shall have your house in the square"

Ominous Entry into House - The Scene of a Murder

Paula Discussing Her Aunt's Glass Cabinet with Her "Treasures"

One Glove - From a Performance (Her Aunt Had Given the 2nd One Away to a Young Admirer)
  • upon their return, Paula ominously entered the home; in the second floor bedroom (where the murder had occurred), she remarked: ""It's all dead in here. The whole place seems to smell of death"; she became thoughtful when she recalled her Aunt's "treasures" from all over the world that she had collected, held in a glass cabinet; the glass in the case was broken the night of the murder, and things inside were in disarray, but nothing was missing; Paula recalled one glove from her performance in Romeo and Juliet: ("I never knew what happened to the other glove. I used to ask her sometimes, but she'd only laugh and say she'd given it away. A very great admirer. She would never tell me who")
  • Paula pulled the dusty drape covering her aunt's regal portrait (wearing a jewel-covered gown) to reveal her beautiful aunt: "That's as the Empress Theodora. That was her greatest role. When she sang it in St. Petersburg, the Czar used to come to every performance" - important clues for later
  • and then Paula momentarily became upset after she recalled finding her aunt's murdered-strangled body in front of the fireplace: "No, I can't stay here." To calm her haunting memories, Gregory insisted that all her aunt's possessions be stored, boarded up and shut away out of view in the third floor attic; he also ominously suggested that they close themselves off from the outside world by postponing plans for parties until a later time
  • as they opened the piano in the bedroom, Paula discovered an incriminating piece of evidence - one of her Aunt's old letters inside her score for Theodora, written by her aunt's murderer (Sergis Bauer, alias for Anton) two days before the homicide; Gregory violently snatched the letter from her hands
  • it was the beginning of the slow domination and destruction of her sanity by a manipulative and greed-obsessed husband during his surreptitious search for her Aunt's missing valuable jewels; Anton was, in reality, a single-minded jewel thief, diabolical and manipulative husband, and a murderer, who married Paula to live in the house in fog-bound Thornton Square where he had murdered her aunt years earlier
  • Gregory hired and often flirted with teenaged, slutty Cockney house-maid Nancy Oliver (Angela Lansbury in her film debut); he instructed her about how Paula (the "mistress") was "high-strung" and told her to never bother her about anything, causing Paula to imagine animosity or distance between them; Anton's objective was to slowly, menacingly, and seductively drive his innocent young wife mad; the home's elderly, slightly-deaf cook, Elizabeth Tompkins (Barbara Everest), noticed that the "master" frequently kept telling the "mistress" that she was ill, although she didn't appear to have anything wrong with her
  • the beginning of Gregory's destructive ploys to make Paula go crazy occurred just before they took an excursion outside their residence to the Tower of London; he presented her with a family heirloom brooch owned by his mother, and reminded her of how frequently she often lost things or was forgetful; he then conspicuously placed the brooch in Paula's purse; during their tour while viewing the dazzling Crown Jewels, Gregory became unusually wide-eyed and hypnotized by their beauty
  • but then Paula admitted that the brooch was missing; it was fairly obvious that Gregory was responsible for its absence, not Paula (he had cleverly palmed the brooch), although he was persuasive in convincing her of her culpability - for her frequent transgressions of forgetfulness, losing things, absent-mindedness and suspiciousness; she melodramatically admitted that she was responsible for its disappearance and that she might be disintegrating and going crazy: ("Suddenly, I'm beginning not to trust my memory at all")

Gregory Placing Gift of Brooch Into Paula's Purse Before Trip to Tower of London

Gregory Hypnotized by Crown Jewels in the Tower of London Tour

Paula Distraught After Losing Brooch
  • while Gregory was away and talking a walk - presumably to practice the piano and compose in a rented apartment nearby, two other issues arose - the gaslights mysteriously dimmed for no reason in Paula's bedroom, and she heard strange footsteps at night from the third floor attic above
  • over a period of 4-5 months since moving in, it appeared that Gregory's intention was to convince Paula that she was sick, in order - for some reason - to isolate her, keep her distant from others, and cause paranoia
  • one day in the Thornton Square park, the elderly, gossipy, pigeon-feeding busybody Miss Thwaites remarked to inquisitve and savvy Scotland Yard Police Constable Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) about her odd neighbor couple: "They never have visitors. Never go out anywhere, at least she doesn't"
  • before this, Cameron - who had become intrigued by Paula's uncanny resemblance to her opera-singer aunt, looked into the files of Alice Alquist's long-ago, unsolved murder case; he was a long-time admirer of Paula's aunt: ("I once met Alice Alquist. I was taken to hear her in a command performance when I was twelve years old, then afterwards to meet her in the artist's room...I still think she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw and I've never forgotten her") - he revealed that he was the secret recipient of Alice's 2nd glove
  • Cameron learned about the murder victim's stolen crown jewels (from another country's royal head, the Czar given as a present to the opera singer) that were unaccounted for; he unofficially reopened the 'cold case' and gave an under-cover surveillance task to a policeman named Williams (Tom Stevenson) - to work the beat around the Thornton Square area; Williams soon became the object of Nancy's seductive desires
  • Anton chided Nancy about her flirtations with the new beat-policeman ("Is his heart going to be added to the list of those you've broken?") and suggested that the cheeky young girl help restore his wife's youthfulness - although actually he wanted her to show contempt toward his wife: "I was wondering whether you might not care to pass some of your secrets on to your mistress and help her get rid of her pallor"; Paula complained about the despicable treatment she received from the maid-servant: "Her whole manner. The way she talks to me, the way she looks at me"; Anton accused his self-doubting wife of becoming delusionary and imagining things again; he also forbid Paula to see their visiting neighbors ("I do not want people all over this house!")
  • after inviting her to go out to the theatre, as part of his continued plans of sabotage, he accused his fearful, paranoid wife of stealing a framed picture from a wall by pointing to a bright, square rectangle left behind; Paula feared that she was a kleptomaniac; then when she found the missing picture behind a statue on the landing of the stairs, explaining "I only looked there because that's where it was found twice before," but she couldn't recall how it got there; Anton declared that she was further mentally disabled and sent her to her room, cancelling their evening plans for the theatre

Paula Also Accused of Stealing Framed Picture - Missing From the Wall

Paula Found Picture Behind Statue on the Stairs
  • when she was left by herself, in a panic, Paula admitted that she was horrified and 'frightened of the house': "I hear noises and footsteps. I imagine things, that there are people over the house. I'm frightened, and of myself too"; she begged for him to assure her: "Gregory, please! Please don't leave me. Stay with me. Gregory, take me in your arms, please!" but he walked off
  • as he often did, Gregory disappeared into the foggy night, walked around the block, and hid in the shadows. Later, imprisoned within her own house and bedroom, Paula again heard ominous footsteps above her, and saw the flickering gaslights dim. [Note: He was determinedly trying to find the location of the precious jewels stashed in the house during secretive, nightly searches of the third-floor attic where he ransacked her aunt's stored possessions. He would use the vacant house # 5 next door to reach the rooftop and slip in and out of Paula’s attic through its skylight unnoticed.]
  • Anton and Paula attended a dignified musical concert at a party held at the home of Lord (Lawrence Grossmith) and Lady Dalroy (Heather Thatcher), after Paula insisted she had to get out of the house: ("I must get out of this house, meet people and see a little of what's going on in the world. I'm going to this reception")
  • during the performance, Gregory psychologically rebuked his young bride, causing her to break down and become hysterical when he proved that she had stolen his pocket watch, when he searched and found it hidden in her handbag; (Brian Cameron witnessed her erratic behavior seated behind them in the concert audience); when she couldn't control herself and broke down, convinced that she was mad, they left the party immediately and returned home
Gregory's Next Scam - His Missing Pocket Watch at Concert
  • once they had returned home and were in their bedroom, Paula accused Gregory of regarding her as insane, when she asked: "Gregory, are you trying to tell me I'm insane?...But that's what you think, isn't it? That's what you've been hinting and suggesting for months now, ever since the day I lost your brooch. That's when it all began. No, no, no, it began before that. The first day here when I found that letter" - but he said she was delusional; he denied that the letter even existed! ("You had nothing in your hand")
  • Gregory then insinuated that Paula had inherited insanity through her family - Paula's mother (Alice Alquist's sister), before her death a year after Paula's birth, was committed to an insane asylum ("Your mother was mad"), with alarming symptoms that paralleled Paula's mad behavior ("In the end, she died in an asylum with no brain at all"); he threatened to institutionalize her as well [Note: Gregory twisted the truth to benefit his story. Paula's mother died during her birth.]; the paranoidly-jealous Gregory was most concerned about the suspicious man sitting behind them - ("You only went because you knew he would be there....Who is he, someone from the past? Someone you refused, perhaps?")
  • that same evening, Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron and beat-cop Williams watched as Anton left his house, but then mysteriously seemed to have returned to his own house ("Where did he go?")
  • simultaneously; Paula was tormented again by footsteps above her, and flickering and dimming gaslights, but her slightly-deaf maid Elizabeth was no help ("You just imagine things"); later that night about 3 am, Williams reported that the dirt-covered Anton returned home ("as though he'd been digging in a cellar or something"); fearful of what might happen to Paula, if she suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent away, Cameron vowed the next night to get into the house when the ever-watchful husband was gone
Paula Asking Maid Elizabeth About Flickering Gaslights and Footsteps (Elizabeth: "You just imagine things")
  • in the film's turning point, wary detective Cameron - after Gregory departed in the evening - entered the home and introduced himself to Paula; he showed her the second glove given to him by her Aunt, to confirm his trustworthiness and sincerity; he assured her that he had proof that she wasn't "going out of (her) mind"; he also quickly explained that she was hearing Gregory's footsteps as he spent his nights methodically hunting and searching through her aunt's possessions in the third-floor attic, in search of her missing jewelry; Gregory's excuse was that he had rented a studio for peace and quiet so that he could work on his composing; the dimming gas lights were further evidence that he had turned on the gaslights in the attic above the house; disembodied hands tossed aside the aunt's gown (seen earlier in the portrait above the fireplace) - the shadowy figure was revealed to be Anton
  • Cameron also searched through Gregory's locked desk with Paula, where she discovered the letter from Sergis Bauer ten years earlier was hidden away: "I was right. There was a letter...I found this. But my husband said I dreamed. And now it's here. It's been here the whole time"; it clearly revealed that Gregory (aka Sergis Bauer), who was a young pianist who had played for her in Prague and had a wife there, had sent the letter (with his matching hand-writing) two days before her murder, and had in fact murdered Paula's aunt in her 9 Thornton Square home in London
  • Cameron assured the nerve-wracked, long-suffering Paula: "You're not going out of your mind. You're slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind"

Disembodied Hands Discarding Aunt's Gown with the Jewels Sewn Into the Bodice

Four Sparkling Valuable Jewels Amongst Cheap Imitation Jewelry

Anton's Discovery of the Four Valuable Jewels

Anton Holding Up the Gown Next to the Portrait Painting
  • at the same time, in the attic as Gregory was about to leave, he spied the long-lost, glittering four crown jewels sewn in plain sight, mixed into the bodice of one of Alice Alquist's gowns (the one seen in the portrait) with other cheap costume jewelry imitations; when the gas lights grew stronger, Cameron realized that Gregory was returning, and he rushed outside to avoid being seen
  • Gregory pried out the four valuable jewels, then returned home (not via the outside but by the boarded-up 3rd floor attic door), and in his bedroom, he noticed that his desk had been tampered with; he accused Paula of opening the desk, but she used her alleged insanity to appear delusional: ("My mind is going. It was a dream...")
  • Cameron, who had followed Anton's pathway down from the attic's 3rd floor door, had retrieved the gown left behind, and confronted Gregory with it in his bedroom; during a struggle for Anton's handgun, he was chased back into the attic where they fought and he was joined by Williams who was summoned from across the street
  • when things quieted down, Paula found her husband tied him to a chair in the attic; Cameron allowed Paula a few moments to speak to him "alone"
Paula's Vengeful Accusations Against Her Deceitful, Cruel Husband
  • during her final scene of psychological retribution, she vengefully and scornfully raged at her tied-up husband; she wielded a sharp knife as she bitterly taunted, denounced and regaled her trapped husband with his own abusive tactics - by acting mad, and claiming that she was incapable of helping him:

    "How can a mad woman help her husband to escape?...Yes, I am mad as my mother was mad....If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"

  • in the conclusion, Williams led the malevolent Gregory away with his hands bound, while on the rooftop beneath a cloudy night sky, the vindicated Paula was consoled by the stalwart Brian after her ordeal; Miss Thwaites caught them and remarked: "Well!"

Paula On the Rooftop With Cameron

Miss Thwaites: "Well!"

Paula's (Ingrid Bergman) Secret Lover - Her Amorous Pianist Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer)

Paula On the Train to Lake Como with Busybody Miss Thwaites (Dame May Whitty) Who Loved Murder Mysteries

Gregory Greeting Paula With a Kiss at Lake Como

Gregory's Suggestion to Move Back to London and Live in Her Aunt's House ("You shall have your dream, you shall have your house")

Arrival at 9 Thornton Square - Meeting Up Again with Miss Thwaites

Portrait Above Fireplace of Paula's Aunt - Wearing Jewel-Covered Gown as Empress Theodora

Paula's Haunted Memories of the Night of Her Aunt's Murder

Paula: "No, I can't stay here!"

Paula's Discovery of an Incriminating Letter From Sergis Bauer (aka Gregory Anton) - Snatched Away by Anton

Newly-Hired Cockney Housemaid Nancy (Angela Lansbury)

Slightly-Deaf Cook Elizabeth (Barbara Everest)

Paula With Housemaid Nancy

Curious Scotland Yard Police Constable Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) with Miss Thwaites

Brian Cameron Still Intrigued by the Unsolved Alquist Murder Case

Policeman Williams (Tom Stevenson) Hired to Work the Thornton Square Area

Gregory's Flirtations with Saucy Housemaid Nancy

Paula's Reaction to Husband's Command: ("I do not want people all over this house!")

Paula Hearing Footsteps and Noticing Flickering Gaslights

Paula Insisting on Going to the Dalroy Musical Concert

At the Concert - Cameron Seated Behind Them

Paula's Crazed Distress After Returning Home In Middle of Concert

"You had nothing in your hand...Your mother was mad!"

Fearing She Was Growing Insane

Cameron and Williams Following Disappearing Anton Outside on Foggy Night ("Where did he go?")

Paula On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Cameron Revealing the Aunt's Second Glove to Paula

Cameron Hearing the Footsteps and Seeing the Gaslights Dim For Himself

The Figure in the Attic Revealed to be Paula's Husband

Scotland Yard Detective Cameron to Paula: "You're not going out of your mind"

Paula Accused by Her Husband of Tampering With Anton's Desk

Cameron Entering Anton's Bedroom (from the Attic) to Confirm That He Had Tampered With the Desk

Anton's Handgun Behind His Back - A Struggle Ensued with Cameron


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